By Calvin Palmer
At least six people were killed and 76 people injured when a Metro train ran into the back of another one in the nation’s capital during this evening’s rush hour.
The front of the trailing train jackknifed into the air and landed on top of the leading train.
District of Columbia fire spokesman Alan Etter said crews had to cut some people out of the tangled wreckage of what he described as a “mass casualty event”.
More than 200 firefighters from D.C., Maryland and Virginia converged on the scene and propped steel ladders to the upper train cars to allow survivors to scramble to safety.
Seats from the smashed rail cars were strewn across the track.
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said six were confirmed dead. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said rescue workers treated 76 people at the scene and sent some of them to local hospitals, six with critical injuries.
A Metro official said the dead included the female operator of the trailing train. Her name was not immediately released.
President Barack Obama in a message of condolence said: “Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in northeast Washington D.C. today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy.”
The president also thanked rescue personnel who helped to save lives.
The crash occurred around 5:00 p.m. on the system’s red line, Metro’s busiest, which runs below ground for much of its length but is at ground level at the accident site near the Maryland border in northeast Washington.
Metro chief John Catoe said the first train was stopped on the tracks, waiting for another to clear the station ahead, when the trailing train, one of the oldest in the Metro fleet, ran into it from behind.
“I don’t know the reason for this accident,” he said. “I would still say the system is safe, but we’ve had an incident.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause. D.C. police and the FBI also had investigators at the scene.
Officials would not say how fast the train was traveling at the time of the accident. The trains’ devices that record operating speeds and commands are being turned over to the NTSB.
Each train had six cars and was capable of holding as many as 1,200 people but as they were headed downtown, they were less likely to be filled during the evening rush hour than if traveling in the opposite direction.
The trains had pulled out of the Takoma Park station and were headed in the direction of the Fort Totten station.
Sabrina Webber, a 45-year-old real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood, said the first rescuers to arrive had to use the “jaws of life” to pry open a wire fence along rail line to get to the train.
Webber raced to the scene after hearing a loud boom like a “thunder crash” and then sirens. She said there was no panic among the survivors.
Passenger Jodie Wickett, a nurse, was on one train, sending text messages on her phone, when she felt the impact.
She told CNN: “I flew out of the seat and hit my head. The people that were hurt, the ones that could speak, were calling back as we called out to them. Lots of people were upset and crying, but there were no screams.”
At Howard University Hospital, Dr. Johnnie Ford, an emergency room doctor, said a 14-year-old girl suffered two broken legs in the accident.
A 20-year-old male patient “looked like he had been tumbled around quite a bit, bumps and bruises from head to toe,” Ford said.
Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said that federal authorities had no indication of any terrorism connection.
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]